Baran (2001)

Baran (2001) movie poster

director Majid Majidi
viewed: 06/26/2015

Around the recent turn of the millennium, Iran was going through a new spurt in cinema.  Dubbed the “Iranian New Wave” (every country’s modern growth is cheaply tagged “new wave” it seems),  it featured a series of films by a number of filmmakers that embraced a type of neo-realism, often using non-professional actors, telling stories that were about the less well-to-do in society, often featuring simple, potentially metaphorical stories.  I recall this already being on the rise in the 1990’s when I was a film school.

Like a lot of people at the time, I saw a couple of the films.  I had a number of them on my radar “to see” but really didn’t get around to many.  It’s interesting because it seems that that little window of time has opens and closed and perhaps evolved?  I’m far from an expert on the subject.

I’d had Majid Majidi’s Baran in my Netflix queue perhaps all this time.  I’d seen his film, The Color of Paradise (1999), and must have read about Baran when it was released.  Sitting in my queue all this time, it somewhat languished, perhaps in part because in a list view in which the only information that you have is the title of the film, no year, no director, no reference to country, Baran can easily be confused as being a title of a film from any number of places and its real description fading in memory over time.

In this case, Baran translates as “rain” and is the name of an Afghan girl who poses as a boy to work a day labor job in Tehran when her father falls and injures himself and is unable to work.  Baran is seen through the eyes of teenage Lateef, a smart-alecky kid whose job of taking tea to the other workers is handed over to the newcomer when s/he fails to perform in heavier tasks.  At first, he is incensed and aggrieved with her, but then when he realizes that she is a girl, he becomes smitten and secretly spends all of his money trying to help her and her family.

It’s an amazingly simple and sweet film.  There is a poetry and purity in the neorealism style, the efficacy of non-professional actors to capture a naturalism and reality so seemingly profound.  Quite a beautiful film.

The Past (2013)

The Past (2013) movie poster

director Asghar Farhadi
viewed: 05/17/2014

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi returns to the well of the family melodrama that he tapped so successfully in his 2011 film A Separation.

In A Separation the story is of the life of a husband and wife separating, living apart, caring for their child and the husband’s elderly father.  Its understated, earnest approach was quite compelling and the exploration of the process of law in Iran, regarding a number of events in the film was also quite fascinating.

The Past taps into similar material, a husband and wife divorcing, so that the wife can move on with her new lover.  Beyond evolving the status of the relationship, the complexity of the drama here is quite higher too, with the wife’s lover’s wife in a coma following a suicide attempt, drama around the wife’s elder daughter, and more.

Frankly, it felt a bit more melodramatic, though the tone is still largely understated.  It also takes place in France in relationships between people from different countries and backgrounds.  A strong humanity pervades the film.

I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as A Separation.  The film received good praise, and it is good.  I’d say not as good, but you know.

This is Not a Film (2011)

This is Not a Film (2011) movie poster

directors Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
viewed: 04/05/2013

When simply making a film is a political act, a form of protest, one has to wonder if simply watching the film is also an aspect of that political act, an act of support, albeit of utterly fractional dimension.  This is Not a Film is in fact a film, a documentary, a document shot on digital camera and iPhone by director Jafar Panahi who was under house arrest, banned from making films for 20 years, and facing 6 years in prison for his politics, and collaborator filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb.

The film consists primarily of Panahi hanging around his house, talking to his lawyer and walking through a planned but quashed film.  As day grows to night, the outside becomes filled with explosions for a fireworks evening celebration of a traditional Persian festival that the government also doesn’t support.  The film ends in an ambiguous glimpse of the outside and fire jumping chaos of the evening, a mixture of anxiety and freedom.

I’ve never seen any of Panahi or Mirtahmasb’s films.  I don’t know how good of filmmakers they may be.  But it must be said that in the United States or other Western countries where filmmakers often bemoan their inability to produce their films or versions of films that they would make due to economic concerns, getting the funding, fighting the great monsters of industry and commerce, that this Panahi’s situation is so starkly in contrast.  He’s not to write, direct, film or get interviewed.  It’s not about money, but about cultural control.

This is Not a Film is at times boring, fascinating, polemical.  Filmed almost entirely in Panahi’s posh Tehran flat, it is a glimpse of a country that most Americans and probably many people have never seen.  I was reminded in an odd way of A Separation (2011), an Iranian drama that I recently saw, which also took place in a Tehran flat and dealt with issues of laws and family life, the modern Tehran, not so radically different inside the home than outside.

I am struck that the profundity of This is Not a Film is not simply in its production, smuggled from the country on a flash drive, and certainly not in my watching it, though making art in direct opposition to the laws and facing prison, it is its most definitive quality.  There are aspects of questioning the whole process of filmmaking, as when Panahi references a moment on a set of one of his films when his child actress quit the process in mid-shot, protesting for whatever her reason, leaping from the bus.  As he considers how his film on paper that he tries to act out is so incomplete without the naturalism his actors would bring to the process, what would actually be caught on film, as he contemplates ever making a film again, his friend and colleague behind the camera reminds him that there is much value in documenting what is happening to him.  Filmmaking may be creative, collaborative, a luxury of freedom and expression but it is also a very significant tool to inscribe “truth”.

Very thought-provoking.  I hope that he is given his freedoms back.

A Separation (2011)

A Separation (2011) movie poster

director Asghar Farhadi
viewed: 02/02/2013

A Separation was last year’s winner of Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.  It took me a whole year to getting around to see it.  Not sure why.  Just did.

It’s a very good film, a family drama set in Tehran.  A middle class husband and wife separate, per the title, Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi), because Simin wants to leave the country and Nader wants to stay, primarily to care for his father who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.  Though Simin states this in the film’s opening, speaking to a judge who is trying their case, it’s never really delved into, the significance to leaving Iran versus staying.  The biggest concern for the couple is their 11 year old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) and what she wants.  She opts to stay with her father.

What unfolds, the main narrative of the film, stems from the circumstances of the change in their lives.  Nader takes on a caretaker for his father, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a very devout woman of a more working class family.  She is pregnant and not strong enough to care for the increasingly incoherent man and her young daughter who stays with her.  At one point, the old man goes into the street and she has to chase him down.  And the next day, Nader returns home to find his father abandoned, tied to the bed, and in very bad shape, no Razieh around.  She returns and a confrontation ensues, in which Nader shoves Razieh out of the door.  She falls.  She eventually has a miscarriage.

The film spends a lot of time in the various legal situations.  Nader is accused of murder, causing the miscarriage.  Nader accuses Razieh of elder abuse.  Razieh’s violent, emotional husband gets out of hand, is threatened with jail time, as well.  The court hearings are set in small rooms, with a judge just across a desk from complainants who site next to one another in a small row of chairs.  A scribe or stenographer is there too.  It’s interestingly free of bureaucracy; simple face-to-face human judgment.  The film itself maintains a humanistic perspective, portraying all parties as decent but flawed people caught in situations of dire stress.

Film-making in Iran is managed politically by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (oddly enough portrayed in Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012), when even non-Iranian productions are to be filmed in the country) and for a film like A Separation to be released, it had to pass muster with that office.  Director Asghar Farhadi was at one point subjected to punishment for statements he made in support of other Iranian filmmakers who have fallen on the wrong side of the ministry.  So, it’s a film that met qualifications to tell its human story.

The film is interesting to me because of its urban setting.  These families are people with very recognizable ideals and problems, transcending aspects of cultural difference.  But the film is also very much of its culture, the court systems, the schools, the class differences, the overall situation of all involved that offers a vantage on life in Tehran, an image crafted from within.  Other Iranian films that I’ve seen have been set more often in the countryside or small villages, so seeing the urban life and landscapes I found quite compelling.  The performances are all very fine as well.

It’s certainly a good movie.  I’m glad to have seen it.